This archived article was written by: Allie Mangum
Robert Frost Fellowship recipient weaved life into a presentation of poetry at the College of Eastern Utah for faculty, staff, students and public last week.
With the opening poem, Gildner shares a favorite pastime with the audience such as taking his wife and daughter down the road from their home, “past lilacs, plums,” to a field where they can collect cow pies for the garden. A lover of outdoors, he is often found toiling among clay and rock in his garden, studying the sky or fishing for trout in nearby streams.
While he was fishing, Gildner experienced a poetic breakthrough concerning the second poem of the evening, “One bright autumn”. He was initially unsatisfied with the poem about a time when his uncle and his father were working on a scaffold; his uncle suddenly grabbed a live wire, and his father had to hit him with a two-by-four. Sure that no better outcome for the poem existed, he had the three-stanza piece published. After viewing it in the magazine, he realized that he “hated that third stanza even more.” In fact one day, on the stream, he “suddenly knew how to finish it.”
Each piece is unique and not begun or finished in the same way. “Sometimes starting is the hardest thing, sometimes the middle is the hardest thing … and sometimes finishing is the hardest thing to do. You just have to figure it out.”
It is evident that Gildner derives much inspiration for his work from his family, people he meets and usual experiences. It may be his father as a carpenter, a post office clerk in Poland or a young student that arouses an idea.
“Letter to a substitute teacher,” came from just that – a letter from a student to a teacher – as well as the memory of a coded, love note Gildner received as a child. These simple confessions become the centerpiece for amusing poetry.
The act of sending a package through a post office is not usually the foundation for a great story. Yet Gildner constructs the entertaining account of one trip to a Polish post office. The audience is absorbed in his story of ricocheting from clerk to clerk, desperately trying to translate his circumstances and finally hurling the package into the air.
Gildner attended Michigan State receiving his master’s degrees in journalism and comparative literature. He has published 20 books and received notable awards, including a National Magazine Award for fiction, Pushcart prizes in fiction and nonfiction, two National Endowment of the Art Fellowships as well as recognition as the author of a Top Ten University Press Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine.
Whether mailing a package in a foreign land, reminiscing over a sixth grader’s love letter or collecting cow pies, Gildner possesses a gift to transform seemingly insignificant, mundane tasks into fascinating compositions.